Josh Kurtz: Pillow Talk

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Political dynasties are commonplace – in Maryland and across the country.

Don’t let Jeb Bush’s flameout sway you. It’s almost always an advantage in a political race to have a time-tested surname.

But common as political dynasties are, what Nick and Marilyn Mosby are attempting to accomplish in Baltimore city has very little precedent. There is something almost Clintonian about it.

He, of course, is the first-term councilman who is running for mayor. She is in her second year as state’s attorney.

They are a smart, energetic and attractive couple, with two adorable, made-for-campaign-literature daughters.

But whatever their talents, records, and political potential, the Mosbys are asking a lot of Baltimore voters: To install an enormous amount of political power – and invest a whole lot of trust – in one small household. Mayor and state’s attorney are, arguably, the most important elected positions in the city. Some Mosby foes have suggested that having Nick and Marilyn in those two offices represents a conflict of interest – which is simply not true.

Still, Nick and Marilyn Mosby have no doubt helped each other a great deal as they’ve launched their political careers. Would Marilyn Mosby have been such a credible challenger to Gregg Bernstein, the incumbent state’s attorney in 2014, without Nick Mosby’s good name and political network? Bernstein was almost inevitably going to have an African-American opponent in the Democratic primary – but would Mosby have been as formidable if she had been Marilyn James, which is her maiden name?

And here we are in 2016, with Nick Mosby in the thick of the Democratic mayoral primary. Given the electorate’s hunger for change, a vigorous first-term council member like Mosby might be a competitive candidate for mayor. And he has wanted to be mayor since he was 8 years old.

But most council members still labor in relative obscurity. Mosby certainly is benefiting from his wife’s high profile – and some voters credit her with bringing peace to the city last spring with her swift indictments of the police officers involved in the Freddie Gray case. In fact, Nick Mosby has said he was inspired to run for mayor this time in part so he could help heal the city in the wake of last spring’s unrest.

At the same time, Nick and Marilyn Mosby’s political careers could be impeded by their overlapping trajectories. Fairly or not, every day Nick Mosby’s mayoral candidacy is being seen through the prism of Marilyn’s performance as state’s attorney. If he is elected mayor, a major screw-up by the state’s attorney’s office could impact his political standing – and vice-versa.

And then, if Nick is successful in his quest to climb the political ladder this spring, there is the simple reality that in Maryland, there aren’t so many high offices to seek. If he becomes mayor, what’s his next move? Governor? Senator? What’s Marilyn’s next move? Attorney general? Governor? Senator? U.S. attorney?

No matter how successful and charismatic Marilyn and Nick Mosby are, no matter how savvy they are about their political paths, they may eventually encounter the phenomenon that Jeb Bush did in this presidential campaign: Too many Mosbys. It will be fascinating to watch their careers unfold.

Meanwhile, there is the human element behind their careers and candidacies – and the fact that a husband-wife political team is still relatively rare.

For some insights into what that’s like, we turned to two members of Maryland political power couples: State Del. Karen Lewis Young (D), a former Frederick city alderwoman whose husband, state Sen. Ron Young (D), is a former Frederick mayor, and former Del. Jolene Ivey (D), a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2014 who is married to Glenn Ivey (D), the former Prince George’s County state’s attorney who is now running for Congress.

In recent interviews, Karen Young, who is 64, and Jolene Ivey, 54, reflected on their political partnerships with their husbands – and weighed in on the Mosbys, who are 36.

Young, half of the first husband-wife team to serve simultaneously in the Maryland General Assembly, said she is surprised that so many people make a big deal of it, when to her “it’s a non-issue.”

“Why are people more concerned about a husband and wife when for decades we’ve had father-son and sibling relationships in political office?” she said. “All of a sudden when a woman is involved there is this new element added to the situation, so that’s a bit of a concern.”

Ivey – who is contemplating a run for Prince George’s county executive in 2018, but is focused for now on her husband’s bid to win the 4th congressional district primary in April – said she and Glenn have become more supportive of each other now that they have dual political careers. Knowing what a political lifestyle requires has brought them closer together, she said.

Glenn Ivey, who also worked on Capitol Hill and was chairman of the state Public Service Commission, was elected state’s attorney in 2002. After 16 years as a stay-at-home mom raising five boys, Jolene Ivey was elected to the House in 2006, as Glenn was seeking a second term.

“It would irritate me when he would come home late, when he was working at night,” she recalled. “After I ran, I saw how important that was…so I gave him a break.”

When Jolene Ivey was tapped to be Doug Gansler’s running mate in the 2014 gubernatorial election, Glenn Ivey would take it upon himself to door-knock on the ticket’s behalf.

“I didn’t ask him to,” she laughed. “He was able to get the pulse out there in a way that I wasn’t – what people were concerned about. The fact that he would do that for me without being asked – that’s love.”

Young said her husband’s presence in the Senate has a politically practical upside for her.

“I found it a real advantage having my husband in the Senate because when I’m looking for someone to cross-file my bills, I know he’ll do it,” she said.

But that’s not so unusual for senators and delegates who represent the same district.

“I work with my husband collaboratively but he’s the senator for my district so we’re expected to do that – but we probably take it to the nth degree because we are always working together,” Young said.

On the other hand, last year Karen and Ron Young introduced privacy bills that weren’t identical and had to be reconciled. This year they have both sponsored bills to change the state song.

“His bill is different than mine, and he says he’s not going to change it, so we’re going to have to get someone to help negotiate,” Karen Young said.

When she decided to run for the House in 2014, a year after losing a bid for mayor of Frederick, Karen Young was one of four Youngs on the Frederick County ballot – Ron was seeking a second term in the Senate, and two of his sons were running for other offices – and there were inevitable complaints that there were too many Youngs running.

“When I first decided to run for House of Delegates someone said I shouldn’t run because I might hurt my husband’s chances, and I thought, that’s awfully archaic,” she said.

Ivey said she thinks it’s “a mistake” for Baltimore voters to link the Mosbys so closely in their minds, or think “that if you support one, you have to support the other.”

“They have to make a decision about a candidate,” Ivey said, “not a couple.”

Additional reporting by Karina Shedrofsky

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily on Capitol Hill. He can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter -- @joshkurtznews

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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.